Shortfalls in international assistance and discriminatory policies imposed by the Lebanese authorities are creating conditions that facilitate the exploitation and abuse of women refugees in Lebanon, said Amnesty International in a new report published ahead of the Syria Donors Conference in London on 4 February.
The report, ‘I want a safe place’: Refugee women from Syria uprooted and unprotected in Lebanon, highlights how the Lebanese government’s refusal to renew residency permits for refugees and a shortage of international funding, leaves refugee women in a precarious position, and puts them at risk of exploitation by people in positions of power including landlords, employers and the police.
“The combination of a significant shortage in international funding for the refugee crisis and strict restrictions imposed on refugees by the Lebanese authorities, is fuelling a climate in which refugee women from Syria are at risk of harassment and exploitation and are unable to seek protection from the authorities,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
In 2015, Lebanon stopped the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) from registering any more Syrian refugees and introduced new regulations making it difficult for refugees to renew their residency status. Without proper legal status they face arbitrary arrest, detention and even deportation leaving many afraid to report abuse to police.
The combination of a significant shortage in international funding for the refugee crisis and strict restrictions imposed on refugees by the Lebanese authorities, is fuelling a climate in which refugee women from Syria are at risk of harassment and exploitation and are unable to seek protection from the authorities,Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland
Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other country in the world. 20% of Syrian refugee households in Lebanon are headed by women. In some cases women became the main income providers supporting the family after their husbands were killed, detained, forcibly disappeared or abducted in Syria.
“Last September, I visited the informal settlements in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley along the Syrian border. There, families are forced to rent a small piece of land where they construct a makeshift shelter without any water, sanitation or hygiene facilities. The majority of refugees from Syria in Lebanon are struggling to survive in often desperate conditions. They face widespread discrimination and major obstacles in obtaining food, housing or a job. For women refugees surviving in such circumstances can often be even more difficult, with many at increased risk of harassment, exploitation and abuse at work and in the streets,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Around 70% of Syrian refugee families are living significantly below the Lebanese poverty line. The UN humanitarian response to the Syria refugee crisis has consistently been underfunded. Last year the UN only received 57% of the funds it requested for its work in Lebanon. The severe shortage of funds forced the World Food Programme to reduce the monthly food allowance provided to the most vulnerable refugees from US$30 to US$13.50 in mid-2015. After an injection of funding in late 2015, it was increased to $21.60- just $0.72 a day. A quarter of the women Amnesty International spoke to had stopped receiving payments for food over the last year.
Amnesty International is calling on the international community to increase the number of resettlement places and other safe routes out of the region offered to refugees from Syria. In addition they must boost financial assistance and use this week’s donor conference to pledge to fulfil the UN’s funding requirements for assistance for the Syria crisis for 2016-2017.
“The large number of refugees has placed a considerable strain on Lebanon, but this is no excuse for the harsh restrictions the authorities have imposed on refugees which are putting them in danger,” said Colm O’Gorman.
“The world’s wealthiest countries, from the EU including the UK, Gulf states and the USA, must do much more to relieve this crisis by increasing both their humanitarian support & the number of resettlement places.”
The refugee women who spoke to Amnesty International spoke of the discrimination they faced in Lebanon:
“Hanan”, a Palestinian refugee from Syria who lives in a refugee camp near Beirut with her three daughters, said she went to the police to complain when a bus driver harassed her and was turned away. They told her she was not eligible to present a complaint because she lacked “legal status”.
Another Syrian woman told Amnesty International said she became a target for harassment after going to the police:
“After a while the police would pass by our house or would call us and ask us to go out with them. It was the same three police officers who took our report. Because we don’t have legal [residence] permits, the officers threatened us. They said that they would imprison us, if we didn’t go out with them.”
In a climate of widespread discrimination against refugees in Lebanon, refugee women who managed to find jobs to support themselves reported being exploited by employers who paid excessively low wages. “They know we will agree to whatever low wage they offer because we are in need,” said “Hanan” a Palestinian refugee from Syria whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
“Asmaa”, a 56-year-old Palestinian refugee from Syria living in Shatila, a refugee camp in Beirut southern suburbs said she did not permit her daughters to work for fear they would face harassment: “My daughter worked in a store. The manager harassed her and touched her. That is why I don’t let my daughters work now.”